Last Friday, I had a long, socially distanced chat with my almost-80-year-old volunteer lady. Halfway through, she started talking about her funeral arrangements. As an elderly person living alone and with no immediate relatives, this is a big concern for her. She said: “I’m so glad I’m on my way out. The world is a cold, unfriendly place. There’s no compassion nowadays. Do you agree?”
I didn’t have an answer for her, but I’ve been thinking about it this week. Is the world really getting worse?
It’s easy to see why many people claim that the world is getting worse. Aside from the fact that there’s a pandemic threatening the lives and livelihoods of people all around the world, we are facing a climate emergency, political division, and an ongoing battle against various sorts of discrimination. Additionally, there is the growing problem of loneliness to deal with, which can be as potent a killer as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (source: Quartz).
This is what my volunteer lady misses in today’s world. Because of disabilities, she can no longer go out and meet new people, and the ones that she knows are equally elderly, frail and housebound. Compounded with Coronavirus, this makes for a lonely life spent on her own in front of the TV.
Although loneliness is often discussed in terms of the elderly, it is just as big a problem with young people. According to a Mental Health Foundation study in 2019, 27% of young adults feel isolated, and 46% don’t have someone to speak to about their emotions. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made this problem even worse.
Despite these issues, the world has become a better place. Here are some encouraging points to consider:
Almost all of us live better than the richest segment of the population 100-200 years ago. We have running hot and cold water, heating and/ or air conditioning, 24-hour on-demand entertainment through TV, books and the internet, and the opportunity to easily and quickly travel wherever we’d like to go. Additionally, basic necessities are cheap compared to most of our salaries, which leaves some money left over for entertainment and to secure our retirement.
When it comes to fighting global hunger and poverty, we have progressed. While 15% of the global population was undernourished in 2000, today it is under 9% (Action Against Hunger). This is a hopeful sign that global poverty can be eliminated in the future.
Over the last century, massive steps have been taken to promote equality. Women, racial minorities and LGBTQ+ people have been given equal rights in many areas of the world. These measures are not enforced as they should be and problem is by no means solved, but there is a lot of awareness and it is encouraging to see how the fight continues.
What do you think? Is the world getting worse or getting better? Or does it depend on who you are?
A plug for volunteering
Either way, we all have a choice in the matter. We can all do something to make a difference in someone’s life, no matter where we live and what our personal circumstances are. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming, expensive or tedious. You can choose a task that appeals to you and fits with your schedule.
Personally, I’ve been visiting the same lady for almost three years. Every week, I call her on the phone, bring her some groceries, and (Covid permitting) chat with her for an hour. It’s a nice way for me to get involved in my community and for her, it’s a lifeline and a break in her routine. If you are in the UK and looking to do something similar, AgeUK and GoodGym are great places to get started. If volunteering with elderly people doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other options:
- Conservation and gardening work
- Taking care of homeless pets
- Working at a homeless shelter or food bank
- Volunteer tutoring children and young adults
- Volunteer delivery driving
- Mentoring a refugee
What is your favourite way of volunteering?